Thursday, November 02, 2006

Working at Walt Disney Feature Animation

I've worked in some unusual places in my life... One of the best was working for Walt Disney Feature Animation, where it was my privilege to work with the talented animators who created "The Lion King."

It was a fortuitous accident. I went out to Feature Animation to temp one time, and I ran into Karen Schmidt, a fellow graduate of my college's theatre department, who worked there now as a supervisor. It turned out she had one employee leaving, and another one coming, and there was a gap in between them that needed to be filled. She knew she could trust me to bridge it, so we made a mutually satisfying arrangement (through my temp agency, of course!).

I held the interim title of "Assistant Training Coordinator," or something fancy like that. It was a wonderful position!

In the wake of the success of "Aladdin," and given a "revival of the art of animation" now being extolled, the place was vibrantly energized as they prepared their encore production, "The Lion King."

For this project, in my new role, I arranged to bring in the live animals that the animators sketched. There were lions and tigers and bears, oh my! (Okay, not tigers and bears -- but there were lions and meerkats!) I also made some of the arrangements necessary to bring in Jim Fowler (remember Mutual of Omaha's "Wild Kingdom"?) to talk about the animals while the artists sketched.

During one press junket, I managed to snatch a quick sketch of the Genie that Eric Goldberg drew for the TV cameras and left behind. Unfortunately, it isn't signed.

You can actually see me in the short documentary, "The Making of... The Lion King," which is featured on the "Aladdin" video. If you don't blink, you might spot a woman wearing a bright fuchsia suit standing in the back of the room. That's me!

During this experience, I got to pet the mascot of "The Lion King," Chester. Isn't he cute? It was fascinating how oily his fur felt, and easy to forget how dangerous he was. It's astounding to realize that mere months later, Chester looked more like the lion on the right.

The woman on the left is animator Ellen Woodbury, who was responsible for drawing the funny bird Zasu in the movie.

On the heels of "The Lion King," I was privileged to arrange Al Hirschfeld's visit to Disney Animation. It was quite the event, since Al didn't fly and would only travel to California by train (from New York). The animators thought Al Hirschfeld was a god!

The Hirschfelds reminded me of Mr. & Mrs. Santa Claus. They were delightful people! And it was thrilling to be regaled with stories of what it was like to live in Paris in the twenties by someone who was actually there. That was a memorable experience!

I confess, of all the oddball jobs I've held down in my life, this one stands out as a very special experience. I was very sorry when it was time to go.

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